The rates of new cases of obesity in elementary school children are higher and occurring earlier than they were a decade ago, according to a new study.
Obesity in childhood and early adolescence can be linked to poor mental health and are often precursors to chronic diseases in adulthood, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
As reported in Pediatrics, the rise is happening despite numerous public health efforts to promote healthy behaviors and to improve living environments, the researchers say.
The researchers analyzed at what ages children are most likely to develop obesity and which children are at highest risk. They compared data on children entering kindergarten in 1998 and in 2010 and followed them through fifth grade. The data are nationally representative, so findings can be generalized to children growing up in the United States.
Major findings from the study include:
- Approximately 40% of today’s high school students and young adults had experienced obesity or could be categorized as overweight before leaving primary school.
- Children born in the 2000s experienced rates of obesity at higher levels and at younger ages than children 12 years earlier, despite public health campaigns and interventions aimed at preventing obesity.
- Non-Black Hispanic kindergartners had a 29% higher incidence of developing obesity by fifth grade compared to non-Black Hispanic kindergartners 12 years earlier.
- Risk of developing obesity in primary school among the most economically disadvantaged groups increased by 15%.
“These worrying data indicate that the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States continues to grow and get more serious. Our knowledge about effective interventions to fight this also seems limited,” says Venkat Narayan, professor of global health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and co-senior author of the study.
“We urgently need an aggressive national strategy for interdisciplinary research and public health to stem the tide of childhood obesity and its consequences in the US and worldwide.”
“For decades, we have seen the number of children with obesity increasing, in spite of extensive efforts from many parents and policy makers to improve children’s nutrition, physical activity, and living environments,” says lead author Solveig A. Cunningham, associate professor of global health.
“Have these efforts worked? Is obesity finally receding? Our findings indicate that no, obesity must continue to be a public health priority.”
Source: Emory University